Water Authority releases report on wetlands dumping

The Water Authority has released a report addressing previously unanswered questions about the National Roads Authority dumping waste containing a carcinogen into Grand Cayman’s wetlands.

According to the report, the NRA has been dumping wastewater and sludge from roadside storm drains into the island’s wetlands since at least 2011. The NRA began doing this after the Water Authority and the Department of Environmental Health stopped accepting the waste at their facilities.

The report states that the NRA’s dumping was not “formally endorsed” by the Department of Environmental Health, the Department of Environment or the Water Authority, but the report does not mention why those departments allowed the practice to continue for years.

Along with detailing how long the NRA has been dumping waste in wetlands, the report also suggests that thousands of gallons of waste may have been dumped in the wetlands over the years.

According to the report, the NRA cleans out about 500 wells with two 4,000-gallon trucks, and “each truck is emptied 3 to 4 times per day.” Only one truck was in service as of September. The waste will now be deposited at the George Town landfill.

Meanwhile, other government departments have been silent about plans to clean the wetlands, whether any penalties will be levied against the NRA, how the NRA’s wetlands-dumping policy was made, and whether the waste will be treated before it is disposed of at the landfill. Health and Environment Minister Dwayne Seymour declined to comment on the matter, while the Department of Environmental Health and the NRA did not respond to inquiries. Infrastructure Minister Joey Hew, who is responsible for the NRA, did not respond to inquiries, either.

The Department of Environment sent a response after the Cayman Compass print deadline. That response will be reported in Friday’s edition.

The Water Authority’s report was drafted in September, about two months after a Cayman 27 reporter filmed the NRA dumping wastewater into the wetlands near the Linford Pierson Highway.

The Water Authority subsequently sent samples from the wetlands, a roadside well, and an unpolluted control site to Florida for testing.

According to the report, the tests found the wetlands and well samples to contain the carcinogen Benzo(a)pyrene at levels higher than Florida soil remediation standards. Benzo(a)pyrene has been found in soot and is linked to “chimney sweeps’ carcinoma,” or cancer of the scrotum, according to the U.K.-based Royal Society of Chemistry.

The report states that the carcinogen in the sludge sample from the Linford Pierson Highway disposal sample was measured at 424 micrograms per kilogram, surpassing the Florida “contaminant cleanup target level” threshold for residential soil of 100 micrograms per kilogram – the Florida threshold for industrial soil is 700 micrograms per kilogram. The sample directly from the well also tested for the carcinogen at 1,140 micrograms per kilogram.

The issue of carcinogenic wastewater being dumped in wetlands stems from improvements the NRA made in cleaning out roadside drainage wells about 12 years ago.

The Water Authority’s report states that in 2006 the NRA started vacuuming out stormwater wells in order to clear debris and mitigate flooding. Before that, the NRA would blow out the debris with compressed air, which was an inferior method because debris in the wells was left on the surface and would drain back into the wells when it rained – resulting in reduced drainage capacity.

When the NRA started vacuuming out the wells, the agency initially took material to the Water Authority’s wastewater treatment ponds. However, the Water Authority stopped this practice because it was concerned that the NRA trucks could possibly collapse the embankment of the pond when driving on it, the report states.

After the Water Authority stopped accepting the waste, the NRA began disposing of it at the George Town landfill. But around 2011, the Department of Environmental Health stopped accepting the waste as well.

The Water Authority’s report does not state why the Department of Environmental Health stopped accepting the waste at the landfill, or whether any plans were made to dispose of the waste somewhere other than the wetlands.

With the Water Authority and Department of Environmental Health not accepting the waste, the NRA began dumping it at four sites: off Linford Pierson Highway nearly opposite the Equestrian Centre; off of Halley Street in Frank Sound; in West Bay near Ristorante Pappagallo; and at the Bobby Butz former quarry across from the Spotts dock – dumping at this location was discontinued when the quarry was closed off with a chain, the report states.

The amount of waste dumped at the site has increased over the last three years, according to the report.

Before 2015, the well vacuuming was only done at a “moderate level,” with the NRA using its trucks in response to flood emergencies only. About three years ago, the NRA started a preventative cleaning program during the dry season, focusing on the roughly 500 wells in areas that flood frequently.

The NRA stopped vacuuming the wells following negative media reports in June, and reverted to blowing them with compressed air, according to the Water Authority.

Now that the Department of Environmental Health is again accepting the waste at the landfill, the Water Authority stated that how the issue has been handled is “a good and positive example of various Government agencies working together to find a suitable and responsible solution for this challenge that affected every agency.”